I’ve stated before that I’ve never read comic books “correctly”. Except for a very few individuals, I don’t know much of anything about pencilers, inkers, or writers from before the recent era. I can’t pick up a silver age comic and tell you who drew it or hear the name of most of those creators and instantly have an idea of what his artwork looked like or what he usually brought to a story. A lot of that is because I didn’t grow up absorbed in that stuff. I’ve said before that my comics reading was fitful at best and I didn’t really connect with any titles, much less an entire line of books, to obsess about. This would continue until I discovered creators like George Perez and Grant Morrison and began paying attention to who was making the things instead of jut what was inside them.
But there was one exception I’ve been overlooking. A huge one.
My Dad collected MAD Magazine from the early fifties until well into my childhood. The magazines in a box in his closet weren’t porn, they were parody. He let me read them, which is the biggest sign of love for me I can think of, since I sure as hell didn’t treat them with care. (They’re in poor condition, thanks mostly to me, so as thorough as the collection is, it’s valueless — except to me, who prizes them above rubies.) I didn’t just read them, I pored over them. I read them over and over and over. I meditated on them and studied them and explored them.
I was spellbound by their depiction of popular culture in the 50s and 60s. I had no knowledge of these time periods (and little interest in getting any) except what I saw there, which was not just funny, but fascinating to me. It was a whole world right there, with entertainers, politicians, sex symbols, and, most importantly, everyday people. They dealt with the looming problem of nuclear destruction, the emerging problem of Vietnam, and the perennial problem of dog poop. How could Marvel or DC compete with this? Through MAD I can identify characters on TV shows I’ve never seen and recite slogans and jingles for products that stopped existing before I was born. I also saw the magazine go from good-natured ribbing of politicians to tortured cries of desperation, though I was too young at the time to really appreciate this. (The box still exists and it needs to get up here, but navigating that has been tricky.)
More to my current point, though, I got to know the writers and artists that were in the MAD stables. Al Jaffee, Dave Berg, Jack Davis, Sergio Aragones, Antonio Prohias, Mort Drucker, Paul Peter Porges, the inimitable Don Martin. I could identify their work on sight and knew what sort of things I’d get from each of them. Sometimes, though, I hit the jackpot and pulled out a copy from the 50s, where I’d see a feature drawn by “Wood”.
I didn’t know who he was or, for a long time, his full name, since the artwork took my eye away from the credits and towards its delicious detail, signed only with “Wood”. His pictures were filled to bursting with little inclusions, a holdover from the earliest days of parody comics, and I could stare at the same feature over and over and still find new things about it. As my later comics tastes would confirm, I like clean, bold artwork with lots of detail, and that was Wally Wood’s. His women were sexy, his technology was arcane, his monsters were tentacled and oozy. He could effortlessly go from the familiar to the fantastic, and imbue each with a little of the other. There was one piece in particular that blew my little mind, an article called “What’s All This Jazz About Jazz” in which he was able to just go to town and cram in anything he pleased. Here are two scans I yanked from other sites:
I didn’t know anything about EC comics, despite my fascination with MAD (Dad’s collection didn’t go back that far) so this was the only exposure to Wally Wood I had and would have for years. It would be a long time before I would get to see and appreciate Wood’s real heyday.
I recently got Strange Worlds of Science Fiction: Wally Wood which is a collection of some pretty early pre-EC stuff (with a handful of individual EC pages thrown in). It’s not really Wood at his best, that would come later, but still a combination of two things I love: goofy science fiction comics and Wally Wood artwork. The panels I posted last week while I was out of town all came from this collection, and if you liked them there’s a lot more in there.
I know his story is a sad one, and it’s a shame. He’s one of the titans.